Category Archives: shotmaking

Shaping Your Golf Shots

I’ve written several times on how to hit fades and draws, and this one is probably my best post on the subject.

There are other ways to get this done, though, and you should be acquainted with a few of them. The ones I am going to talk about today involve the hands.

Let’s review the problem to be solved. To fade, the clubface must be open to the swing path. To draw, the clubface must be closed to the swing path.

Here are several ways to get that done with your hands alone.

When you set up, your right palm (left palm for left-handed golfers) faces a certain direction, and you can feel the orientation of that palm against the club and in relation to the other hand. I wrote about this a few weeks ago.

When you take the club back and through and that feeling of orientation doesn’t change, you will hit a straight shot, all things being equal.

To hit a draw, feel like your palm has turned toward the other hand just a little bit as you bring the club into impact. That “just a little bit” part is important. Don’t overdo it.

To hit a fade, do the opposite. Feel as if the right palm has turned away from from the other hand and you come into the ball.

Note: this does not mean the hands have gotten closer together or separated. They stay as united as they were at address.

If you have feeling of the palm having moved, you will get it right. If you actually move the palm, you will overdo it and hit a slice or a hook, which you don’t want.

Another way to get this done is by altering the orientation of your hands during the takeaway.

When you take the club away, your forearms naturally rotate. Retard the rotation slightly and the clubface closes. Over-rotate slightly from normal and the clubface opens.

From there, hold that orientation throughout the backswing and forward into the ball.

A third way is a different way of looking at the first way. To draw, turn your right palm down as the club comes into the ball. To fade, turn the right palm upward.

A fourth way is entirely mental and relies on giving your unconscious mind instructions and then staying out of its way as it tells your body what to do.

If you look at your hands as they approach impact, the right palm faces somewhat upward, squares up at impact, and appears to turn and face downward following through. It is as if your hands are rotating. They aren’t, though. It’s the forearms that are rotating, but you get the idea.

To fade, think about delaying the rotation until a touch after impact. That will leave the clubface open at impact. To draw, think about rotating a tiny bit early. The clubface will then be closed at impact.

A fifth way is to swing back normally, and on the forward swing, to fade, think of the heel of the clubhead leading the clubface into the ball. To draw, think of the toe of the clubhead leading the clubface into the ball.

These thoughts will be felt in a subtle movement of the right hand of which there is no need to control deliberately. The shift will happen by itself and hopefully give you a controllable amount of curve.

Five ways to think about working the ball. Five ways of saying the same thing, probably. Pick one and work on it.

The benefit of these methods is that you can use the same setup and the same swing and still be able to move the ball. The more things you do that are the same, the easier golf is.

But to do something different with the ball, you have to change something that you do, which means you have to practice until you own that change.

Approach Shot Accuracy

Here’s a rule of thumb for recreational golfers regarding iron play.

Take the number of the club and add a zero to it. That’s the percentage of the time you should hit the green with that club.

With a seven-iron, you should hit the green seventy percent of the time. Five-iron, fifty percent. And so on.

If you can achieve this, and you play from the right set of tees, you should score pretty well.

How to Hit a Fade or a Draw, in 50 Words

(and one video, q.v.)

1. Always align your body parallel to the yellow rod.

2. Always aim the clubface halfway between the two rods.

3. Fade: the orange rod is the target line and the yellow rod is the swing line.

4. Draw: The yellow rod is the target line and the orange rod is the swing line.

All this is predicated on being able to hit the ball straight at will. Otherwise, you’ll just be adding more uncertainty to your game.

Practice these shots before you use them on the course.

Make sure the swing line points in a direction that won’t hurt you if the curve doesn’t come off as planned.

When you set up, disregard your target. Think only of the direction you want the ball to start. If you think of where you want the ball to end up, you will try to move the ball there deliberately, ruining everything.

The amount of curvature you get depends on the angle between the two rods and your ability to curve the ball. Experiment to find out your results.

How to Learn a Short Game Shot

There is a right way to teach yourself how to hit a new short game shot. Go through this sequence and the shot will work for you.

1. Learn to make consistent contact. The shot will behave the way you want it to only if you hit it the same way every time. It might take hundreds of tries before you become consistent with how you strike the ball. It’s worth the effort.

2. Learn to hit the shot where you’re aiming it. To get the ball close to the hole, you have to hit it straight and the right distance. Straight is easier, so start there. Again, hundreds of balls won’t be to many.

3. Learn to hit the shot the right distance. This one takes time and thought. One way to start is to get a standard-length stroke and play that stroke with different clubs, seeing what distance you get with each one. Another way is to use just a few clubs and learn how to finesse each one to the right distance. A combination of the two isn’t a bad idea, either.

You might want to start with your bread and butter short shots, the greenside chip and the standard pitch (from 50-100 yards). You can always hit them better than you’re doing now.

When you pick up a new specialty shot, go through this sequence to master it. Hitting it sort of well isn’t what I want you to do. Get good!

I once heard that Lorena Ochoa would practice a new shot for about six months before she used it in a tournament. That’s good advice for all of us.


This tip was extracted from my first book, Better Recreational Golf. There’s lots more stuff just like this in there. Believe me, I won’t be disappointed if you buy your own copy. Neither will you.

Leaving Approach Putts Short

I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke, “95% of all putts that come up short don’t go into the hole,” so I don’t have to say it here. Oh, wait… I just said it. Sorry.

If this is you, if you have a bad case of the Shorts, let me give you a cure.

You don’t leave thirty-foot putts short because you don’t judge distance well. If that were the case, you would be leaving them long, short, and in the middle. But they all seem to come up short.

What is likely going on is that you fear the putt going past the hole. You feel safer sneaking up on the hole. Even though you know five feet short is the same as five feet past, you are more comfortable with five feet short. The prospect of going five feet past just gives you the willies.

That’s fine. We don’t need to change that feeling. All I’m going to ask you to do is change the way you stroke the putt.

Even if you have the speed perfectly judged, at the last instant you flinch and pull back, hitting the ball softer than you had planned. What I want you to do is change the point of impact to take out that flinch.

You think now that the putter hits the trailing edge of the ball, the one next to the putter when you address the ball. And that’s true, it does.

What I want you to do instead is look at the leading edge of the ball, the one closest to the hole, and think about hitting that edge. Think that the ball is transparent to the putter and you will hit that edge when you hit the ball.

By doing that, you will hit the ball before you expect to. You won’t flinch because by the time you mind is ready for the “hit” sensation, the ball has already been struck.

The result? The ball gets to the hole and goes in. If it misses it goes maybe a foot or two past. And you didn’t hit it any harder. You might have hit it exactly as you had planned.

Give this a try. You have nothing to lose but four strokes.

Long Chip Shots

Chips from twenty yards or so can be the most troublesome shots in golf. They come in four varieties, based on the ratio of distance to the green and distance from there to the pin. I’m going to tell you how to hit each one.

1. Ten yards to the green, ten yards to the pin. Here, the distances are equal, but they are long distances. You need a moderately-lofted club, like a pitching wedge, to get the ball to the edge of the green but not run out way past the hole.

2. Ten yards to the green, five yards to the pin. Use a gap wedge to get the ball to the edge of the green and sitting quickly. The stroke is specialized: hit the shot by sliding the club underneath the ball, keeping the clubhead low at all times, especially on the follow-through, to get maximum spin.

3. Five yards to the green, ten (or more) yards to the pin. Use a 7- or 8-iron to get the ball on the green and running up to the hole.

4. Fifteen yards to the green, five yards to the pin. Use a sand wedge. This another specialized stroke. Power the downswing only with gravity, using your hands to guide the club into the ball. Emphasize hitting the ground directly underneath the ball with the sole of your club. When struck properly, the ball floats up, floats down, and dies right away. This shot takes practice.

If you have a tight lie for any of these shots, odds are you have good ground all the way up to the green. If so, and there are no obstacles to hit over, use a straighter-faced club and run the ball all the way to the pin.

With a tight lie and something you have to hit over, like a bunker or thick grass, play the ball back in your stance. Pinch the ball off the turf with a lofted wedge. Think only of getting the ball on the green so you can start putting.

Calibrate Your Pitching Game

The shots from 50-100 yards are hard to get right. You’re close enough that you’ll get the ball on the green. What’s hard is hitting the ball next to the pin. That means hitting it the right distance.

You can do it if you calibrate your pitching game. You’ll need a laser rangefinder and a notebook. Go to the range when there aren’t a lot of people there, because you will be switching mats all the time.

The idea is to hit your wedges with two basic strokes and find out how far the ball goes with those strokes and each club.

One stroke takes your left arm back to parallel with the ground. That’s your full pitching stroke. The other stroke takes your left arm back halfway that far. That is the short stroke.

Get in front of a marker in the range that is 60 yards away. Take out your sand wedge and pitch to it with the full stroke. Hit four or five balls with that same stroke and the same force.

If they all go too far or not far enough, keep moving to other mats until you find the one from where you pitch exactly to the marker. Then take out your rangefinder and find the distance to the marker. That’s how far you pitch your sand wedge with a full pitching stroke.

Now do the same exercise with the sand wedge and your short pitching swing. When you’re finished, you have two guaranteed pitching distances with your sand wedge. Write them down in your notebook.

Repeat both exercises with each of your other pitching clubs. I have five: 9-iron, PW, 52, 56, and 60.

When you’re finished, get a 3X5 card and write down these distances, in descending order by yards, with the club/swing combination alongside that gives you that distance. This card goes into your bag for when you play.

When I’m 78 yards from the hole, for example, I look on my card and see that the shot calls for a PW with the short stroke. And when I hit that shot, the ball stops within 10-12 feet. If it doesn’t, I mishit the shot.

Pitching close shouldn’t be guesswork. It’s easy when you know what you’re doing.

Curving the Ball to the Left or the Right

Last month I discussed the reasons why the golf ball curves. This impact geometry needs to be clearly understood by every golfer. Only then can swing problems be corrected, and can a golfer curve the ball at will to advantage.

Let us review. The direction the clubface faces at impact is the major determinant of the initial direction the golf ball starts along. The ball will curve if the clubface is not square to the path the clubhead is moving along at impact. (A left-hander’s version of this post is found here.)

To fade the ball:

  • Set up (small oval) to the left of the target (point A).
  • Open the clubface so it faces between point A and the target (point T) (dotted line).
  • Swing normally toward point A.

The ball will start right and curve further right.

To draw the ball:

  • Set up (small oval) square to the target (point T).
  • Pick a spot to the right of the target (point A).
  • Open the clubface so it faces between points A and T (dotted line).
  • Swing into the ball from the inside out toward point A.

The ball will start right and curve left. Even though the clubface is open, if it is closed to the club path, the ball will draw. This push-draw is easy to hit and gets the ball in the air. It avoids the risk of smothering the ball, which might happen if the clubface is closed at address to create the draw spin.

These drawings demonstrate relationships. They do not show the actual
amount of adjustment necessary. That must be determined by your own

I also assume that you have a reasonable command of hitting the ball straight. These corrections won’t work if you always curve the ball one way or the other as a normal shot.

These corrections to your setup and swing are tiny ones. The clubface needs to be opened only two or three degrees. That isn’t very much. The inside-to-out swing for the draw does not need to be exaggerated. You must experiment with the variables for both shots to determine how much of an adjustment you need.

These shots are not to be hit for the asking. You must practice them. Hit ten balls each way every time you go to the range.